Tragedies of Sophocles (Plumptre 1878)/Antigone

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For other English-language translations of this work, see Antigone (Sophocles).

 

ANTIGONE.[1]




ARGUMENT.

After the death Œdipus, Antigone and Ismene returned to Thebes, and lived in the king's house with Eteocles, their brother. But the seven great captains from Argos, whom Polyneikes had called to help him, came against Thebes to destroy it, and were hardly driven back. And the two brothers having died by each others hands, the people of the city made Creon their king, as being wise and prudent, and next of kin to the dead: and he issued his decree that Eteocles should be buried with due honour, but that no man should dare to bury Polyneikes, who had come purposing to lay waste the city and all the temples of the Gods.

 

 

Dramatis Personæ.

Creon, King of Thebes.
Hæmon, son of Creon.
Teiresias, a seer.
Guard.
First Messenger.
Second Messenger.
Eurydike, wife of Creon.
Antigone,  daughters of Œdipus.
Ismene,
Chorus of Theban Elders.
 

 

ANTIGONE.




SCENE—Thebes, in front of the Palace. Early morning. Hills in the distance on the left; on the right the city.


Enter Antigone and Ismene.


Antig. Ismene, mine own sister, darling one!
Is there, of ills that sprang from Œdipus,
One left that Zeus will fail to bring on us,
The two who yet remain? Nought is there sad,
*Nought full of sorrow, steeped in sin or shame,
But I have seen it in thy woes and mine.
And now, what new decree is this they tell,
Our captain has enjoined on all the State?
Know'st thou? Hast heard? Or are they hid from thee,
The ills that come from foes upon our friends?10

Ism. No tidings of our friends, Antigone,
Pleasant or painful, since that hour have come,
When we, two sisters, lost our brothers twain,
In one day dying by a twofold blow.
And since in this last night the Argive host
Has left the field, I nothing further know,
Nor brightening fortune, nor increasing gloom.

Antig. That knew I well, and therefore sent for thee
Beyond the gates, that thou mav'st hear alone.

Ism. What meanest thou? It is but all too clear20
Thou broodest darkly o'er some tale of woe.

Antig. And does not Creon treat our brothers twain
One with the rites of burial, one with shame?
Eteocles, so say they, he interred
Fitly, with wonted rites, as one held meet
To pass with honour to the dead below.
But for the corpse of Polyneikes, slain
So piteously, they say, he has proclaimed
To all the citizens, that none should give
His body burial, or bewail his fate,
But leave it still unwept, unsepulchred,[2]
A prize full rich for birds that scent afar30
Their sweet repast. So Creon bids, they say,
Creon the good, commanding thee and me,—
Yes, me, I say,—and now is coming here,
To make it clear to those who know it not,
And counts the matter not a trivial thing;
But whoso does the things that he forbids,
For him there waits within the city's walls
The death of stoning. Thus, then, stands thy case;
And quickly thou wilt show, if thou art born
Of noble nature, or degenerate liv'st,
Base child of honoured parents.

Ism. How could I,
Ο daring in thy mood, in this our plight,
Or breaking law or keeping, aught avail?40

Antig. Wilt thou with me share risk and toil? Look to it.

Ism. What risk is this? What purpose fills thy mind?

Antig. Wilt thou help this my hand to lift the dead?

Ism. Mean'st thou to bury him, when law forbids?

Antig. He is my brother; yes, and thine, though thou
Would'st fain he were not. I desert him not.

Ism. Ο daring one, when Creon bids thee not?

Antig. He has no right to keep me from mine own.

Ism. Ah me! remember, sister, how our sire
Perished, with hate o'erwhelmed and infamy,50
From evils that himself did bring to light,[3]
With his own hand himself of eyes bereaving,
And how his wife and mother, both in one,
With twisted cordage, cast away her life;
And thirdly, how our brothers in one day
In suicidal conflict wrought the doom,
Each of the other. And we twain are left;
And think, how much more wretchedly than all
We twain shall perish, if, against the law,
We brave our sovereign's edict and his power.60
This first we need remember, we were born
Women; as such, not made to strive with men.
And next, that they who reign surpass in strength,
And we must bow to this, and worse than this.
I then, entreating those that dwell below,
To judge me leniently, as forced to yield,
Will hearken to our rulers. Over-zeal
That still will meddle, little wisdom shows.

Antig. I will not ask thee, nor though thou should'st wish
To do it, should'st thou join with my consent.70
Do what thou wilt, I go to bury him;
And good it were, in doing this, to die.
Loved I shall be with him whom I have loved,
Guilty of holiest crime. More time is mine
In which to share the favour of the dead,
Than that of those who live; for I shall rest
For ever there. But thou, if thus thou please,
Count as dishonoured what the Gods approve.

Ism. I do them no dishonoqr, but I find
Myself too weak to war against the State.

Antig. Make what excuse thou wilt, I go to rear80
A grave above the brother whom I love.

Ism. Ah, wretched me! how much I fear for thee!

Antig. Fear not for me. Thine own fate raise to safety.

Ism. At any rate, disclose this deed to none;
Keep it close hidden: I will hide it too.

Antig. Speak out! I bid thee. Silent, thou wilt be
More hateful to me, if thou fail to tell
My deed to all men.

Ism. Fiery is thy mood,
Although thy deeds the very blood might chill.

Antig. I know I please the souls I ought to please.

Ism. Yes, if thou canst; thou seek'st the impossible.90

Antig. When strength shall fail me, then I 'll cease to strive.

Ism. We should not hunt the impossible at all.

Antig. If thou speak thus, my hatred wilt thou gain,
And rightly wilt be hated of the dead.
Leave me and my ill counsel to endure
This dreadful doom. I shall not suffer aught
So evil as a death dishonourable.

Ism. Go, then, if so thou wilt. Of this be sure,
Wild as thou art, thy friends must love thee still.

[Exeunt.

 

Enter Chorus of Theban Elders.


Stroph. I.

Chor. Ο light of yon bright sun,[4]100
Fairest of all that ever shone on Thebes,
Thebes with her seven high gates,
Thou didst appear that day,
Eye of the golden dawn,
O'er Dirké's streams advancing,
Driving with quickened curb,
In haste of headlong flight,
The warrior[5] who, in panoply of proof,
From Argos came, with shield of glittering white;
Whom Polyneikes brought,110
Roused by the strife of tongues
Against our fatherland,
As eagle shrieking shrill,
He hovered o'er our land,
With snow-white wing bedecked,
Begirt with myriad arms,
And flowing horsehair crests.

Antistroph. I.

He stood above our towers,
Encircling, with his spears all blood-bestained,
The portals of our gates;
He went, before he filled120
His jaws with blood of men,
Ere the pine-fed Hephæstos
Had seized our crown of towers.
So loud the battle din
That Ares loves was raised around his rear,
A conflict hard e'en for his dragon foe.[6]
For breath of haughty speech
Zeus hateth evermore;
And seeing them advance,
With mighty rushing stream,
And clang of golden arms,130
With brandished fire he hurls
One who rushed eagerly
From topmost battlement
To shout out, "Victory!"

Stroph. II.

Crashing to earth he fell,[7]
Down-smitten, with his torch,
Who came, with madman's haste,
Drunken, with frenzied soul,
And swept o'er us with blasts,
The whirlwind blasts of hate.
Thus on one side they fare,
And Ares great, like war-horse in his strength,
Smiting now here, now there,
Brought each his several fate.140
For seven chief warriors at the seven gates met,
Equals with equals matched,
To Zeus, the Lord of War,
Left tribute, arms of bronze;
All but the hateful ones,
Who, from one father and one mother sprung,
Stood wielding, hand to hand,
Their two victorious spears,
And had their, doom of death as common lot.

Antistroph. II.

But now, since Victory,
Of mightiest name, hath come
To Thebes, of chariots proud,
Joying and giving joy,
After these wars just past,150
Learn ye forgetfulness,
And all night long, with dance and voice of hymns,
Let us go round in state
To all the shrines of Gods,
While Bacchos, making Thebes resound with dance,
Begins the strain of joy;
But, lo! our country's king,
Creon, Menœkeus' son,
New ruler, by new change,
And providence of God,
Comes to us, steering on some new device;
For, lo! he hath convened,
By herald's loud command,160
This council of the elders of our land.


Enter Creon.


Creon. My friends, for what concerns our commonwealth,
The Gods who vexed it with the billowing storms
Have righted it again; and I have sent,
By special summons, calling you to come
Apart from all the others. This, in part,
As knowing ye did all along uphold
The might of Laios' throne, in part again,
Because when Œdipus our country ruled,
And, when he perished, then towards his sons
Ye still were faithful in your steadfast mind.
And since they fell, as by a double death,170
Both on the selfsame day with murderous blow,
Smiting and being smitten, now I hold
Their thrones and all their power of sovereignty
By nearness of my kindred to the dead.
And hard it is to learn what each man is,
In heart and mind and judgment, till he gain
Experience in princedom and in laws.
For me, whoe'er is called to guide a State,
And does not catch at counsels wise and good,
But holds his peace through any fear of man,180
I deem him basest of all men that are,
And so have deemed long since; and whosoe'er
As worthier than his country counts his friend,
I utterly despise him. I myself,
Zeus be my witness, who beholdeth all,
Would not keep silence, seeing danger come,
Instead of safety, to my subjects true.
Nor could I take as friend my country's foe;
For this I know, that there our safety lies,
And sailing while the good ship holds her course,190
We gather friends around us. By these rules
And such as these do I maintain the State.
And now I come, with edicts, close allied
To these in spirit, for my citizens,
Concerning those two sons of Œdipus.
Eteocles, who died in deeds of might
Illustrious, fighting for our fatherland,
To honour him with sepulture, all rites
Duly performed that to the noblest dead
Of right belong. Not so his brother; him
I speak of, Polyneikes, who, returned
From exile, sought with fire to desolate200
His father's city and the shrines of Gods,
Yea, sought to glut his rage with blood of men,
And lead them captives to the bondslave's doom;
Him I decree that none shall dare entomb,
That none shall utter wail or loud lament,
But leave his corpse unburied, by the dogs
And vultures mangled, foul to look upon.
Such is my purpose. Ne'er, if I can help,
Shall the vile have more honour than the just;
But whoso shows himself my country's friend,
Living or dead, from me shall honour gain.210

Chor. This is thy pleasure, Ο Menœkeus' son,
For him who hated, him who loved our State;
And thou hast power to make what laws thou wilt,
Both for the dead and all of us who live.

Creon. Be ye then guardians of the things I speak.

Chor. Commit this task to one of younger years.

Creon. Nay, watchmen are appointed for the corpse.

Chor. What other task then dost thou lay on us?

Creon. Not to consent with those that disobey.

Chor. None are so foolish as to seek for death.220

Creon. Yet that shall be the doom; but love of gain
Hath oft with false hopes lured men to their death.


Enter Guard.


Guard. I will not say, Ο king, that I have come
Panting with speed, and plying nimble feet,
For I had many halting-points of thought,
Backwards and forwards turning, round and round:
For now my mind would give me sage advice;
"Poor wretch, why go where thou must bear the blame?
Or wilt thou tarry, fool? Shall Creon know
These things from others? How wilt thou 'scape grief?"230
Revolving thus, I came in haste, yet slow,
And thus a short way finds itself prolonged;
But, last of all, to come to thee prevailed.
And though I tell of nought, yet I will speak;
For this one hope I cling to, might and main,
That I shall suffer nought but destiny.

Creon. What is it then that causes such dismay?

Guard. First, for mine own share in it, this I say,
The deed I did not, do not know who did,
Νor should I rightly come to ill for it.240

Creon. Thou feel'st thy way and fencest up thy deed
All round and round. 'Twould seem thou hast some news.

Guard. Yea, news of fear engenders long delay.

Creon. Wilt thou not speak, and then depart in peace?

Guard. Well, speak I will. The corpse . . . . Some one has been
But now and buried it, a little dust
O'er the skin scattering, with the wonted rites.

Creon. What say'st thou? What man dared this deed of guilt?

Guard. I know not. Neither was there stroke of axe,
Nor earth cast up by mattock. All the soil250
Was dry and hard, no track of chariot wheel;
But he who did it went and left no sign.
And when the first day-watchman showed it us,
The sight caused wonder and sore grief to all;
For he had disappeared: no tomb indeed
Was over him, but dust all lightly strown,
As by some hand that shunned defiling guilt;
And no sign was there of wild beast or dog
Having come and torn him. Evil words arose
Among us, guard to guard imputing blame,260
Which might have come to blows, and none was there
To check its course, for each to each appeared
The man whose hand had done it. Yet not one
Had it brought home, but each disclaimed all knowledge;
And we were ready in our hands to take
Bars of hot iron, and to walk through fire,
And call the Gods to witness none of us
Were privy to his schemes who planned the deed,
Nor his who wrought it. Then at last, when nought
Was gained by all our searching, some one speaks,
Who made us bend our gaze upon the ground
In fear and trembling; for we neither saw270
How to oppose it, nor, accepting it,
How we might prosper in it. And his speech
Was this, that all our tale should go to thee,
Not hushed up anywise. This gained the day;
And me, ill-starred, the lot condemns to win
This precious prize. So here I come to thee
Against my will; and surely do I trow
Thou dost not wish to see me. Still 'tis true
That no man loves the messenger of ill.

Chor. For me, my prince, my mind some time has thought
If this perchance has some divine intent.

Creon Cease then, before thou fillest me with wrath,280
Lest thou be found, though full of years, a fool.
For what thou say'st is most intolerable,
That for this corpse the providence of Gods
Has any care. What! have they buried him,
As to their patron paying honours high,
Who came to waste their columned shrines with fire,
To desecrate their offerings and their lands,
And all their wonted customs? Dost thou see
The Gods approving men of evil deeds?
It is not so; but men of rebel mood,290
Lifting their head in secret long ago,
Still murmured thus against me. Never yet
Had they their neck beneath the yoke, content
To bear it with submission. They, I know,
Have bribed these men to let the deed be done.
No thing in use by man, for power of ill,
Can equal money. This lays cities low,
This drives men forth from quiet dwelling-place,
This warps and changes minds of worthiest stamp,
To turn to deeds of baseness, teaching men
All shifts of cunning, and to know the guilt300
Of every impious deed. But they who, hired,
Have wrought this crime, have laboured to their cost,
Or soon or late to pay the penalty.
But if Zeus still claims any awe from me,
Know this, and with an oath I tell it thee,
Unless ye find the very man whose hand
Has wrought this burial, and before mine eyes
Present him captive, death shall not suffice,
Till first, hung up still living, ye shall show
The story of this outrage, that henceforth,
Knowing what gain is lawful, ye may grasp310
At that, and learn it is not meet to love
Gain from all quarters. By base profit won
You will see more destroyed than prospering.

Guard. May I then speak? Or shall I turn and go?

Creon. See'st not e'en yet how vexing are thy words?

Guard. Is it thine ears they trouble, or thy soul?

Creon. Why dost thou gauge my trouble where it is?

Guard. The doer grieves thy heart, but I thine ears.

Creon. Pshaw! what a babbler, born to prate art thou!320

Guard. May be; yet I this deed, at least, did not.

Creon. Yes, and for money; selling e'en thy soul.

Guard. Ah me!
How dire it is, in thinking, false to think!

Creon. Prate about thinking: but unless ye show
To me the doers, ye shall say ere long
That scoundrel gains still work their punishment. [Exit.

Guard. God send we find him! Should we find him not,
As well may be, (for this must chance decide,)
You will not see me coming here again;
For now, being safe beyond all hope of mine,330
Beyond all thought, I owe the Gods much thanks. [Exit.


Stroph. I.

Chor. Many the forms of life,
Wondrous and strange to see,
But nought than man appears
More wondrous and more strange.
He, with the wintry gales,
O'er the white foaming sea,
'Mid wild waves surging round,
Wendeth his way across:
Earth, of all Gods, from ancient days the first,
Unworn and undecayed.
He, with his ploughs that travel o'er and o'er,340
Furrowing with horse and mule,
Wears ever year by year.

Antistroph. I.

The thoughtless tribe of birds,
The beasts that roam the fields,
The brood in sea-depths born,
He takes them all in nets
Knotted in snaring mesh,
Man, wonderful in skill.
And by his subtle arts
He holds in sway the beasts350
That roam the fields, or tread the mountain's height;
And brings the binding yoke
Upon the neck of horse with shaggy mane,
Or bull on mountain crest,
Untameable in strength.

Stroph. II.

And speech, and thought as swift as wind,
And tempered mood for higher life of states,
These he has learnt, and how to flee
Or the clear cold of frost unkind,
Or darts of storm and shower,
Man all-providing. Unprovided, he
Meeteth no chance the coming days may bring;360
Only from Hades, still
*He fails to find escape,
Though skill of art may teach him how to flee
From depths of fell disease incurable.

Antistroph. II.

So, gifted with a wondrous might,
Above all fancy's dreams, with skill to plan,
Now unto evil, now to good,
He turns. While holding fast the laws,
His country's sacred rights,
That rest upon the oath of Gods on high,
High in the State: an outlaw from the State,
When loving, in his pride,370
The thing that is not good;
Ne'er may he share my hearth, nor yet my thoughts,
Who worketh deeds of evil like to this.


Enter Guards, bringing in Antigone.


As to this portent which the Gods have sent,
I stand in doubt. Can I, who know her, say
That this is not the maid Antigone?
Ο wretched one of wretched father born,380
Thou child of Œdipus,
What means this? Surely 'tis not that they bring
Thee as a rebel against the king's decree,
And taken in the folly of thine act?

Guard. Yes! She it was by whom the deed was done.
We found her burying. Where is Creon, pray?

Chor. Back from his palace comes he just in time.


Enter Creon.


Creon. What chance is this, with which my coming fits?

Guard. Men, Ο my king, should pledge themselves to nought;
For cool reflection makes their purpose void.
I surely thought I should be slow to come here,390
Cowed by thy threats, which then fell thick on me;
But now persuaded by the sweet delight
Which comes unlooked for, and beyond our hopes,
I come, although I swore the contrary,
Bringing this maiden, whom in act we found
Decking the grave. No need for lots was now;
The prize was mine, and not another man's.
And now, Ο king, take her, and as thou wilt,
Judge and convict her. I can claim a right
To wash my hands of all this troublous coil.400

Creon. How and where was it that ye seized and brought her?

Guard. She was in act of burying. Thou knowest all.

Creon. Dost know and rightly speak the tale thou tell'st?

Guard. I saw her burying that self-same corpse
Thou bad'st us not to bury. Speak I clear?

Creon. How was she seen, and taken in the act?

Guard. The matter passed as follows:—When we came,
With all those dreadful threats of thine upon us,
Sweeping away the dust which, lightly spread,
Covered the corpse, and laying stript and bare410
The tainted carcase, on the hill we sat
To windward, shunning the infected air,
Each stirring up his fellow with strong words,
If any shirked his duty. This went on
Some time, until the glowing orb of day
Stood in mid heaven, and the scorching heat
Fell on us. Then a sudden whirlwind rose,
A scourge from heaven, raising squalls on earth,
And filled the plain, the leafage stripping bare
Of all the forest, and the air's vast space420
Was thick and troubled, and we closed our eyes,
Until the plague the Gods had sent was past;
And when it ceased, a weary time being gone,
The girl is seen, and with a bitter cry,
Shrill as a bird's, when it beholds its nest
All emptied of its infant brood, she wails;
Thus she, when she beholds the corpse all stript,
Groaned loud with many moanings, and she called
Fierce curses down on those who did the deed.
And in her hand she brings some fine, dry dust,
And from a vase of bronze, well wrought, upraised,430
She pours the three libations o'er the dead.[8]
And we, beholding, give her chase forthwith,
And run her down, nought terrified at us.
And then we charged her with the former deed,
As well as this. And nothing she denied.
But this to me both bitter is and sweet,
For to escape one's-self from ill is sweet,
But to bring friends to trouble, this is hard
And painful. Yet my nature bids me count
Above all these things safety for myself.440

Creon. [To Antigone.] Thou, then—yes, thou, who
bend'st thy face to earth—
Confessest thou, or dost deny the deed?

Antig. I own I did it, and will not deny.

Creon. [To Guard.] Go thou thy way, where'er thy will
may choose,
Freed from a weighty charge.

[Exit Guard.

[To Antigone.] And now for thee.
Say in few words, not lengthening out thy speech,
Knew'st thou the edicts which forbade these things?

Antig. I knew them. Could I fail? Full clear were they.

Creon. And thou did'st dare to disobey these laws?

Antig. Yes, for it was not Zeus who gave them forth,450
Nor Justice, dwelling with the Gods below,
Who traced these laws for all the sons of men;
Nor did I deem thy edicts strong enough,
That thou, a mortal man, should'st over-pass
The unwritten laws of God that know not change.
They are not of to-day nor yesterday,
But live for ever, nor can man assign
When first they sprang to being. Not through fear
Of any man's resolve was I prepared
Before the Gods to bear the penalty
Of sinning against these. That I should die
I knew, (how should I not?) though thy decree460
Had never spoken. And, before my time
If I shall die, I reckon this a gain;
For whoso lives, as I, in many woes,
How can it be but he shall gain by death?
And so for me to bear this doom of thine
Has nothing painful. But, if I had left
My mother's son unburied on his death,
In that I should have suffered; but in this
I suffer not. And should I seem to thee
To do a foolish deed, 'tis simply this,—
I bear the charge of folly from a fool.470

Chor. The maiden's stubborn will, of stubborn sire
The offspring shows itself. She knows not yet
To yield to evils.

Creon. Know then, minds too stiff
Most often stumble, and the rigid steel
Baked in the furnace, made exceeding hard,
Thou see'st most often split and shivered lie;
And I have known the steeds of fiery mood
With a small curb subdued. It is not meet
That one who lives in bondage to his neighbours
Should think too proudly. Wanton outrage then480
This girl first learnt, transgressing these my laws;
But this, when she has done it, is again
A second outrage, over it to boast,
And laugh as having done it. Surely, then,
She is the man, not I, if, all unscathed,
Such deeds of might are hers. But be she child
Of mine own sister, or of one more near
Than all the kith and kin of Household Zeus,
She and her sister shall not 'scape a doom
Most foul and shameful; for I charge her, too,
With having planned this deed of sepulture.490
Go ye and call her. 'Twas but now within
I saw her raving, losing self-command.
And still the mind of those who in the dark
Plan deeds of evil is the first to fail,
And so convicts itself of secret guilt.
But most I hate when one found out in guilt
Will seek to gloze and brave it to the end.

Antig. And dost thou seek aught else beyond my death?

Creon. Nought else for me. That gaining, I gain all.

Antig. Why then delay? Of all thy words not one
Pleases me now, (and may it never please!)500
And so all mine must grate upon thine ears.
And yet how could I higher glory gain
Than placing my true brother in his tomb?
There is not one of these but would confess
It pleases them, did fear not seal their lips.
The tyrant's might in much besides excels,
And it may do and say whatever it will.

Creon. Of all the race of Cadmos thou alone
Look'st thus upon the deed.

Antig. They see it too
As I do, but their tongue is tied for thee.

Creon. Art not ashamed against their thoughts to think?510

Antig. There is nought base in honouring our own blood.

Creon. And was he not thy kin who fought against him?

Antig. Yea, brother, of one father and one mother.

Creon. Why then give honour which dishonours him?

Antig. The dead below will not repeat thy words.

Creon. Yes, if thou give like honour to the godless.

Antig. It was his brother, not his slave that died.

Creon. Wasting this land, while he died fighting for it.

Antig. Yet Hades still craves equal rites for all.

Creon. The good craves not the portion of the bad.520

Antig. Who knows if this be holy deemed below?

Creon. Not even when he dies can foe be friend.

Antig. My nature leads to sharing love, not hate.

Creon. Go then below; and if thou must have love,
Love them. While I live, women shall not rule.

 

Enter Ismene, led in by Attendants.

Chor. And, lo! Ismene at the gate
Comes shedding tears of sisterly regard,
And o'er her brow a gathering cloud
Mars the deep roseate blush,
Bedewing her fair cheek.530

Creon. [To Ismene.] And thou who, creeping as a viper creeps,
Did'st drain my life in secret, and I knew not
That I was rearing two accursèd ones,
Subverters of my throne,—come, tell me, then,
Wilt thou confess thou took'st thy part in this,
Or wilt thou swear thou did'st not know of it?

*Ism. I did the deed, if she did, go with her,
Yea, share the guilt, and bear an equal blame.

Antig. Nay, justice will not suffer this, for thou
Did'st not consent, nor did I let thee join.

Ism. Nay, in thy troubles, I am not ashamed
In the same boat with thee to share thy fate.540

Antig. Who did it. Hades knows, and those below:
I do not love a friend who loves in words.

Ism. Do not, my sister, put me to such shame,
As not to let me join in death with thee,
And so to pay due reverence to the dead.

Antig. Share not my death, nor make thine own this deed
Thou had'st no hand in. My death shall suffice.

Ism. What life to me is sweet, bereaved of thee?

Antig. Ask Creon there, since thou o'er him dost watch.

Ism. Why vex me so, in nothing bettered by it?550

Antig. 'Tis pain indeed, to laugh my laugh at thee.

Ism. But now, at least, how may I profit thee?

Antig. Save thou thyself. I grudge not thy escape.

Ism. Ah, woe is me! and must I miss thy fate?

Antig. Thou mad'st thy choice to live, and I to die.

Ism. 'Twas not because I failed to speak my thoughts.

Antig. To these did'st thou, to those did I seem wise.

Ism. And yet the offence is equal in us both.

Antig. Take courage. Thou dost live. My soul long since
Hath died to render service to the dead.560

Creon. Of these two girls the one goes mad but now,
The other ever since her life began.

Ism. E'en so, Ο king; no mind that ever lived
Stands firm in evil days, but goes astray.

Creon. Thine did, when, with the vile, vile deeds thou chosest.

Ism. How could I live without her presence here?

Creon. Speak not of presence. She is here no more.

Ism. And wilt thou slay thy son's betrothèd bride?

Creon. Full many a field there is which he may plough.570

Ism. None like that plighted troth 'twixt him and her.

Creon. Wives that are vile I love not for my sons.

Ism. Ah, dearest Hæmon, how thy father shames thee!

Creon. Thou with that marriage dost but vex my soul.

Chor. And wilt thou rob thy son of her he loved?

Creon. 'Tis Death, not I, shall break the marriage off.

Chor. Her doom is fixed, it seems, then. She must die.

Creon. Fixed, yes, by me and thee. No more delay,
Lead them within, ye slaves. These must be kept
Henceforth as women, suffered not to roam;
For even boldest natures shrink in fear580
When they see Hades overshadowing life.

[Exeunt Guards with Antigone and Ismene.

 

Stroph. I.

Chor. Blessed are those whose life no woe doth taste!
For unto those whose house
The Gods have shaken, nothing fails of curse
Or woe, that creeps to generations far.
E'en thus a wave, (when spreads,
With blasts from Thrakian coasts,
The darkness of the deep,)590
Up from the sea's abyss
Hither and thither rolls the black sand on,
And every jutting peak,
Swept by the storm-wind's strength,
Lashed by the fierce wild waves,
Re-echoes with the far-resounding roar.

Antistroph. I.

I see the woes that smote, in ancient days,
*The seed of Labdacos,
*Who perished long ago, with grief on grief
Still falling, nor does this age rescue that;
Some God still smites it down,
Nor have they any end:
For now there rose a gleam,
Over the last weak shoots,
That sprang from out the race of Œdipus;600
Yet this the blood-stained scythe
Of those that reign below
Cuts off relentlessly,
And maddened speech, and frenzied rage of heart.

Stroph. II.

Thy power, Ο Zeus, what haughtiness of man,
Yea, what can hold in check?
Which neither sleep, that maketh all things old,
Nor the long months of Gods that never fail,
Can for a moment seize.
But still as Lord supreme,
Waxing not old with time,
Thou dwellest in Thy sheen of radiancy
On far Olympos' height.610
Through future near or far as through the past,
One law holds ever good,
Nought comes to life of man unscathed throughout by woe.

Antistroph. II.

For hope to many comes in wanderings wild,
A solace and support;
To many as a cheat of fond desires,
And creepeth still on him who knows it not,
Until he burn his foot
Within the scorching flame.620
Full well spake one of old,
That evil ever seems to be as good
To those whose thoughts of heart
God leadeth unto woe,
And without woe, he spends but shortest space of time.

And here comes Hæmon, last of all thy sons:
Comes he bewailing sore
The fate of her who should have been his bride,
The maid Antigone,
Grieving o'er vanished joys?630


Enter Hæmon.


Creon. Soon we shall know much more than seers can tell.
Surely thou dost not come, my son, to rage
Against thy father, hearing his decree,
Fixing her doom who should have been thy bride;
Or dost thou love us still, whatever we do?

Hæmon. My father, I am thine; and thou dost guide
With thy wise counsels, which I gladly follow.
No marriage weighs one moment in the scales
With me, while thou dost guide my steps aright.

Creon. This thought, my son, should dwell within thy breast,
That all things stand below a father's will;640
For so men pray that they may rear and keep
Obedient offspring by their hearths and homes,
That they may both requite their father's foes,
And pay with him like honours to his friend.
But he who reareth sons that profit not,
What could one say of him but this, that he
Breeds his own sorrow, laughter to his foes?
*Lose not thy reason, then, my son, o'ercome
By pleasure, for a woman's sake, but know,
A cold embrace is that to have at home650
A worthless wife, the partner of thy bed.
What ulcerous sore is worse than one we love
Who proves all worthless? No! with loathing scorn,
As hateful to thee, let that girl go wed
A spouse in Hades. Taken in the act
I found her, her alone of all the State,
Rebellious. And I will not make myself
False to the State. She dies. So let her call
On Zeus, the lord of kindred. If I rear
Of mine own stock things foul and orderless,
I shall have work enough with those without.660
For he who in the life of home is good
Will still be seen as just in things of state;
I should be sure that man would govern well,
And know well to be governed, and would stand
In war's wild storm, on his appointed post,670
A just and good defender. But the man
Who by transgressions violates the laws,
Or thinks to bid the powers that be obey,
He must not hope to gather praise from me.
No! we must follow whom the State appoints
In things or just and trivial, or, may be,
The opposite of these. For anarchy
Is our worst evil, brings our commonwealth
To utter ruin, lays whole houses low,
In battle strife hurls firm allies in flight;
But they who yield to guidance,—these shall find
Obedience saves most men. Thus help should come
To what our rulers order; least of all
Ought men to bow before a woman's sway.
Far better, if it must be so, to fall
By a man's hand, than thus to bear reproach,
By woman conquered.680

Chor. Unto us, Ο king,
Unless our years have robbed us of our wit,
Thou seemest to say wisely what thou say'st.

Hæm. The Gods, my father, have bestowed on man
His reason, noblest of all earthly gifts;
And that thou speakest wrongly these thy words
I cannot say, (God grant I ne'er know how
Such things to utter!) yet another's thoughts
May have some reason. 'Tis my lot to watch
What each man says or does, or blames in thee,
For dread thy face to one of low estate,690
Who speaks what thou wilt not rejoice to hear.
But I can hear the things in darkness said,
Ηοw the whole city wails this maiden's fate,
As one "who of all women most unjustly,
For noblest deed must die the foulest death,
Who her own brother, fallen in the fray,
Would neither leave unburied, nor expose
To carrion dogs, or any bird of prey,
May she not claim the meed of golden praise?"
Such is the whisper that in secret runs700
All darkling. And for me, my father, nought
Is dearer than thy welfare. What can be
A nobler prize of honour for the son
Than a sire's glory, or for sire than son's?
I pray thee, then, wear not one mood alone,
That what thou say'st is right, and nought but that;
For he who thinks that he alone is wise,
His mind and speech above what others have,
Such men when searched are mostly empty found.
But for a man to learn, though he be wise,710
Yea to learn much, and know the time to yield,
Brings no disgrace. When winter floods the streams,
Thou see'st the trees that bend before the storm,
Save their last twigs, while those that will not yield
Perish with root and branch. And when one hauls
Too tight the mainsail rope, and will not slack,
He has to end his voyage with deck o'erturned.
Do thou then yield; permit thyself to change.
Young though I be, if any prudent thought
Be with me, I at least will dare assert720
The higher worth of one, who, come what will,
Is full of knowledge. If that may not be,
(For nature is not wont to take that bent,)
'Tis good to learn from those who counsel well.

Chor. My king! 'tis fit that thou should'st learn from him,
If he speaks words in season; and, in turn,
That thou [To Hæmon] should'st learn of him, for both speak well.

Creon. Shall we at our age stoop to learn from him,
Young as he is, the lesson to be wise?

Hæm. Learn nought thou should'st not learn. And if I 'm young,
Thou should'st my deeds and not my years consider.

Creon. Is that thy deed to reverence rebel souls?730

Hæm. I would bid none waste reverence on the base.

Creon. Has not that girl been seized with that disease?

Hæm. The men of Thebes with one accord say, No.

Creon. And will my subjects tell us how to rule?

Hæm. Dost thou not see thou speakest like a boy?

*Creon. Must I then rule for others than myself?

Hæm. That is no State which hangs on one man's will.

Creon. Is not the State deemed his who governs it?

Hæm. Brave rule! Alone, and o'er an empty land!

Creon. This boy, it seems, will be his bride's ally.740

Hæm. If thou art she, for thou art all my care.

Creon. Basest of base, against thy father pleading!

Hæm. Yea, for I see thee sin a grievous sin.

Creon. And do I sin revering mine own sway?

Hæm. Thou show'st no reverence, trampling on God's laws.

Creon. Ο guilty soul, by woman's craft beguiled!

Hæm. Thou wilt not find me slave unto the base.

Creon. Thy every word is still on her behalf.

Hæm. Yea, and on thine and mine, and Theirs below.

Creon. Be sure thou shalt not wed her while she lives.750

Hæm. Then she must die, and, dying, others slay.

Creon. And dost thou dare to come to me with threats?

Hæm. Is it a threat against vain thoughts to speak?

Creon. Thou to thy cost shalt teach me wisdom's ways,
Thyself in wisdom wanting.

Hæm. I would say
Thou wast unwise, if thou wert not my father.

Creon. Thou woman's slave, I say, prate on no more.

Hæm. Wilt thou then speak, and, speaking, listen not?

Creon. Nay, by Olympos! Thou shalt not go free
To flout me with reproaches. Lead her out
Whom my soul hates, that she may die forthwith760
Before mine eyes, and near her bridegroom here.

Hæm. No! Think it not! Near me she shall not die,
And thou shalt never see my face alive,
That thou may'st storm at those who like to yield. [Exit.

Chor. The man has gone, Ο king, in hasty mood.
A mind distressed in youth is hard to bear.

Creon. Let him do what he will, and bear himself
As more than man, he shall not save those girls.

Chor. What! Dost thou mean to slay them both alike?770

Creon. Not her who touched it not; there thou say'st well.

Chor. What form of death mean'st thou to slay her with?

Creon. Leading her on to where the desert path
Is loneliest, there alive, in rocky cave
Will I immure her, just so much of food
Before her set as may avert pollution,[9]
And save the city from the guilt of blood;
And there, invoking Hades, whom alone
Of all the Gods she worships, she, perchance,
Shall gain escape from death, or then shall know
That Hades-worship is but labour lost. [Exit.780

 

Stroph.

Chor. Ο Love, in every battle victor owned;
*Love, rushing on thy prey,
Now on a maiden's soft and blooming cheek,
In secret ambush hid;
Now o'er the broad sea wandering at will,
And now in shepherd's folds;
Of all the Undying Ones none 'scape from thee,
Nor yet of mortal men790
Whose lives are measured as a fleeting day;
And who has thee is frenzied in his soul.

Antistroph.

Thou makest vile the purpose of the just,
To his own fatal harm;
Thou hast stirred up this fierce and deadly strife,
Of men of nearest kin;
The charm of eyes of bride beloved and fair
Is crowned with victory,
And dwells on high among the powers that rule,
Equal with holiest laws;
For Aphrodite, she whom none subdues,800
Sports in her might and majesty divine,

I, even I, am borne
Beyond the appointed laws;
I look on this, and cannot stay
The fountain of my tears.
For, lo! I see her, see Antigone
Wend her sad, lonely way
To that bride-chamber where we all must lie.

Antig. Behold, Ο men of this my fatherland,
I wend my last lone way,
Seeing the last sunbeam, now and nevermore;
He leads me yet alive,810
Hades that welcomes all,
To Acheron's dark shore,
With neither part nor lot
In marriage festival,
Nor hath the marriage hymn
Been sung for me as bride,
But I shall be the bride of Acheron.

Chor. And hast thou not all honour, worthiest praise,
Who goest to the home that hides the dead,
Not smitten by the sickness that decays,
Nor by the sharp sword's meed,820
But of thine own free will, in fullest life,
Alone of mortals, thus
To Hades tak'st thy way?

Antig. I heard of old her pitiable end,[10]
On Sipylos' high crag,
The Phrygian stranger from a far land come,
Whom Tantalos begat;
Whom growth of rugged rock,
Clinging as ivy clings,
Subdued, and made its own:
And now, so runs the tale,
There, as she melts in shower,
The snow abideth aye,830
And still bedews yon cliffs that lie below
Those brows that ever weep.
With fate like hers God brings me to my rest.

Chor. A Goddess she, and of the high Gods born;[11]
And we are mortals, born of mortal seed.
*And lo! for one who liveth but to die,
*To gain like doom with those of heavenly race,
Is great and strange to hear.

Antig. Ye mock me then. Alas! Why wait ye not,
By all our fathers' Gods, I ask of you,
Till I have passed away,840
But flout me while I live?
Ο city that I love,
Ο men that claim as yours
That city stored with wealth,
Ο Dirkè, fairest fount,
Ο grove of Thebes, that boasts her chariot host,
I bid you witness all,
How, with no friends to weep,
By what stern laws condemned,
I go to that strong dungeon of the tomb,
For burial strange, ah me!850
Nor dwelling with the living, nor the dead.

Chor. Forward and forward still to farthest verge
Of daring hast thou gone,
And now, Ο child, thou hast rushed violently
Where Right erects her throne;
Surely thou payest to the uttermost
Thy father's debt of guilt.

Antig. Ah! thou hast touched the quick of all my grief,
The thrice-told tale of all my father's woe,860
The fate which dogs us all,
The old Labdakid race of ancient fame.
Woe for the curses dire
Of that defilèd bed,
With foulest incest stained,
My mother's with my sire,
Whence I myself have sprung, most miserable.
And now, I go to them,
To sojourn in the grave,
Accursèd, and unwed;
Ah, brother, thou did'st find
Thy marriage fraught with ill,870
And thou, though dead, hast smitten down my life.

Chor. Acts reverent and devout
May claim devotion's name,
But power, in one to whom power comes as trust,
May never be defied;
And thee, thy stubborn mood,
Self-chosen, layeth low.

Antig. Unwept, without a friend,
Unwed, and whelmed in woe,
I journey on this road that open lies.
No more shall it be mine (O misery!)880
To look upon yon daylight's holy eye;
And yet, of all my friends,
Not one bewails my fate,
No kindly tear is shed.


Enter Creon.


Creon. And know ye not, if men have leave to speak
Their songs and wailings thus to stave off death,
That they will never stop? Lead, lead her on,
Without delay, and, as I said, immure
In yon cavernous tomb, and then depart.
Leave her to choose, or drear and lonely death,
Or, living, in the tomb to find her home.
Our hands are clean in all that touches her;
But she no more shall dwell on earth with us.890

Antig. [Turning towards the cavern.] Ο tomb, my
bridal chamber, vaulted home,
Guarded right well for ever, where I go
To join mine own, of whom the greater part
Among the dead doth Persephassa hold;
And I, of all the last and saddest, wend
My way below, life's little span unfilled.
And yet I go, and feed myself with hopes
That I shall meet them, by my father loved,
Dear to my mother, well-beloved of thee,
Thou darling brother: I, with these my hands,
Washed each dear corpse, arrayed you, poured libations,
In rites of burial; and in care for thee,900
Thy body, Polyneikes, honouring,
I gain this recompense. [And yet in sight
Of all that rightly judge the deed was good;
I had not done it had I come to be
A mother with her children,—had not dared,
Though 'twere a husband dead that mouldered there,
Against my country's will to bear this toil.
And am I asked what law constrained me thus?
I answer, had I lost a husband dear,
I might have had another; other sons910
By other spouse, if one were lost to me;
But when my father and my mother sleep
In Hades, then no brother more can come.
And therefore, giving thee the foremost place,
I seemed in Creon's eyes, Ο brother dear,
To sin in boldest daring. Therefore now
He leads me, having taken me by force,
Cut off from marriage bed and marriage song,
Untasting wife's true joy, or mother's bliss,
With infant at her breast, but all forlorn,
Bereaved of friends, in utter misery,
Alive, I tread the chambers of the dead.]920
What law of Heaven have I transgressed against?
What use for me, ill-starred one, still to look
To any God for succour, or to call
On any friend for aid? For holiest deed
I bear this charge of rank unholiness.
If acts like these the Gods on high approve,
We, taught by pain, shall own that we have sinned;
But if these sin, [Looking at Creon,] I pray they suffer not
Worse evils than the wrongs they do to me.

Chor. Still do the same wild blasts
Vex her who standeth there.930

Creon. Therefore shall these her guards
Weep sore for this delay.

Chor. Ah me! this word of thine
Tells of death drawing nigh.

Creon. I cannot bid thee hope
For other end than this.

Antig. Ο citadel of Thebes, my native land,
Ye Gods of ancient days,
I go, and linger not.
Behold me, Ο ye senators of Thebes,940
The last, lone scion of the kingly race,
What things I suffer, and from whom they come,
Revering still the laws of reverence.

[Guards lead Antigone away.


Stroph. I.

Chor. So did the form of Danae bear of old,[12]
In brazen palace hid,
To lose the light of heaven,
And in her tomb-like chamber was enclosed:
Yet she, Ο child, was noble in her race,
And well she stored the golden shower of Zeus.950
But great and dread the might of Destiny;
Nor kingly wealth, nor war,
Nor tower, nor dark-hulled ships
Beaten by waves, escape.

Antistroph. I.

So too was shut, enclosed in dungeon cave,
Bitter and fierce in mood,
The son of Dryas,[13] king
Of yon Edonian tribes, for vile reproach,
By Dionysos' hands, and so his strength
And soul o'ermad wastes drop by drop away,
And so he learnt that he, against the God,960
Spake his mad words of scorn;
For he the Mænad throng
And bright fire fain had stopped,
And roused the Muses' wrath.

Stroph. II.

And by the double sea[14] of those Dark Rocks
Are shores of Bosporos,
And Thrakian isle, as Salmydessos known,
Where Ares, whom they serve,970
God of the region round,
Saw the dire, blinding wound,
That smote the twin-born sons
Of Phineus by relentless step-dame's hand,—
*Dark wound, on dark-doomed eyes,
*Not with the stroke of sword,
But blood-stained hands, and point of spindle sharp.

Antistroph. II.

And they in misery, miserable fate,
Wasting away, wept sore,
Born of a mother wedded with a curse.980
And she who claimed descent
From men of ancient fame,
The old Erechtheid race,
Amid her father's winds,
Daughter of Boreas, in far distant caves
Was reared, a child of Gods,
Swift moving as the steed
O'er lofty crag, and yet
The ever-living Fates bore hard on her.


Enter Teiresias, guided by a Boy.


Teir. Princes of Thebes, we come as travellers joined,
One seeing for both, for still the blind must use
A guide's assistance to direct his steps.990

Creon. And what new thing, Teiresias, brings thee here?

Teir. I 'll tell thee, and do thou the seer obey.

Creon. Of old I was not wont to slight thy thoughts.

Teir. So did'st thou steer our city's course full well.

Creon. I bear my witness from good profit gained.

Teir. Know, then, thou walk'st on fortune's razor-edge.

Creon. What means this? How I shudder at thy speech!

Teir. Soon shalt thou know, as thou dost hear the signs
Of my dread art For sitting, as of old,
Upon my ancient seat of augury,1000
Where every bird finds haven, lo! I hear
Strange cry of winged creatures, shouting shrill,
With inarticulate passion, and I knew
That they were tearing each the other's flesh
With bloody talons, for their whirring wings
Made that quite clear: and straightway I, in fear,
Made trial of the sacrifice that lay
On fiery altar. And Hephæstos' flame
Shone not from out the offering; but there oozed
Upon the ashes, trickling from the bones,
A moisture, and it smouldered, and it spat,
And, lo! the gall was scattered to the air,1010
And forth from out the fat that wrapped them round
The thigh bones fell. Such omens of decay
From holy sacrifice I learnt from him,
This boy, who now stands here, for he is still
A guide to me, as I to others am.
And all this evil falls upon the State,
From out thy counsels; for our altars all,
Our sacred hearths are full of food for dogs
And birds unclean, the flesh of that poor wretch
Who fell, the son of Œdipus. And so
The Gods no more hear prayers of sacrifice,
Nor own the flame that burns the victim's limbs;1020
Nor do the birds give cry of omen good,
But feed on carrion of a slaughtered corpse.
Think thou on this, my son: to err, indeed,
Is common unto all, but having erred,
He is no longer reckless or unblest,
Who, having fallen into evil, seeks
For healing, nor continues still unmoved.
Self-will must bear the charge of stubbornness:
Yield to the dead, and outrage not a corpse.
What prowess is it fallen foes to slay?1030
Good counsel give I, planning good for thee,
And of all joys the sweetest is to learn
From one who speaketh well, should that bring gain.

Creon. Old man, as archers aiming at their mark,
So ye shoot forth your venomed darts at me;
I know your augur's tricks, and by your tribe
Long since am tricked and sold. Yes, gain your gains,
Get Sardis' amber metal, Indian gold;[15]
That corpse ye shall not hide in any tomb.
Not though the eagles, birds of Zeus, should bear1040
Their carrion morsels to the throne of God,
Not even fearing this pollution dire,
Will I consent to burial. Well I know
That man is powerless to pollute the Gods.
But many fall, Teiresias, dotard old,
A shameful fall, who gloze their shameful words
For lucre's sake, with surface show of good.

Teir. Ah me! Does no man know, does none consider . . .

Creon. Consider what? What trite poor saw comes now?

Teir. How far good counsel is of all things best?1050

Creon. So far, I trow, as folly is worst ill.

Teir. Of that disease thy soul, alas! is full.

Creon. I will not meet a seer with evil words.

Teir. Thou dost so, saying I divine with lies.

Creon. The race of seers is ever fond of gold.

Teir. And that of tyrants still loves lucre foul.

Creon. Dost know thou speak'st thy words of those that rule?

Teir. I know. Through me thou rul'st a city saved.

Creon. Wise seer art thou, yet given o'ermuch to wrong.

Teir. Thou 'lt stir me to speak out my soul's dread secrets.1060

Creon. Out with them; only speak them not for gain.

Teir. So is 't, I trow, in all that touches thee.

Creon. Know that thou shalt not bargain with my will.

Teir. Know, then, and know it well, that thou shalt see
Not many winding circuits of the sun,
Before thou giv'st as quittance for the dead,
A corpse by thee begotten; for that thou
Hast to the ground cast one that walked on earth,
And foully placed within a sepulchre
A living soul; and now thou keep'st from them,
The Gods below, the corpse of one unblest,1070
Unwept, unhallowed, and in these things thou
Can'st claim no part, nor yet the Gods above;
But they by thee are outraged; and they wait,
The sure though slow avengers of the grave,
The dread Erinnyes of the mighty Gods,
For thee in these same evils to be snared.
Search well if I say this as one who sells
His soul for money. Yet a little while,
And in thy house the wail of men and women
Shall make it plain. And every city stirs
Itself in arms against thee, owning those1080
Whose limbs the dogs have buried, or fierce wolves,
Or wingèd birds have brought the accursèd taint
To region consecrate. Doom like to this,
Sure darting as an arrow to its mark,
I launch at thee, (for thou dost vex me sore,)
An archer aiming at the very heart,
And thou shalt not escape its fiery sting.
And now, Ο boy, lead thou me home again,
That he may vent his spleen on younger men,
And learn to keep his tongue more orderly,
With better thoughts than this his present mood.1090
[Exit.

Chor. The man has gone, Ο king, predicting woe,
And well we know, since first our raven hair
Was mixed with grey, that never yet his words
Were uttered to our State and failed of truth.

Creon. I know it too, 'tis that that troubles me.
To yield is hard, but, holding out, to smite
One's soul with sorrow, this is harder still.

Chor. We need wise counsel, Ο Menœkeus' son.

Creon. What shall I do? Speak thou, and I 'll obey.

Chor. Go then, and free the maiden from her tomb,1100
And give a grave to him who lies exposed.

Creon. Is this thy counsel? Dost thou bid me yield?

Chor. Without delay, Ο king, for lo! they come,
The Gods' swift-footed ministers of ill,
And in an instant lay the self-willed low.

Creon. Ah me! 'tis hard; and yet I bend my will
To do thy bidding. With necessity
We must not fight at such o'erwhelming odds.

Chor. Go then and act! Commit it not to others.

Creon. E'en as I am I 'll go. Come, come, my men,
Present or absent, come, and in your hands
Bring axes: come to yonder eminence.1110
And I, since now my judgment leans that way,
Who myself bound her, now myself will loose,
Too much I fear lest it should wisest prove
Maintaining ancient laws to end my life. [Exit.


Stroph. I.

Chor. Ο Thou of many names,[16]
Of that Cadmeian maid[17]
The glory and the joy,
Whom Zeus as offspring owns,
Zeus, thundering deep and loud,
Who watchest over famed Italia,[18]
And reign'st o'er all the bays that Deo claims
On fair Eleusis' coast.[19]1120
Bacchos, who dwell'st in Thebes, the mother-town
Of all thy Bacchant train,
Along Ismenos' stream,
And with the dragon's brood;[20]

Antistroph. I.

Thee, o'er the double peak
Of yonder height the blaze
Of flashing fire beholds,
Where nymphs of Corycos[21]
Go forth in Bacchic dance,
And by the flowery stream of Castaly,1130
And Thee, the ivied slopes of Nysa's hills,[22]
And vine-clad promontory,
(While words of more than mortal melody
Shout out the well-known name,)
Send forth, the guardian lord
Of the wide streets of Thebes.

Stroph. II.

Above all cities Thou,
With her, thy mother whom the thunder slew,
Dost look on it with love;
And now, since all the city bendeth low
Beneath the sullen plague,1140
Come Thou with cleansing tread
O'er the Parnassian slopes,
Or o'er the moaning straits.[23]

Antistroph. II.

Ο Thou, who lead'st the band,
The choral band of stars still breathing fire,[24]
Lord of the hymns of night,
The child of highest Zeus; appear, Ο king,1150
With Thyian maidens wild,
Who all night long in dance,
With frenzied chorus sing
Thy praise, their lord, Iacchos.


Enter Messenger.


Mess. Ye men of Cadmos and Amphion's house,[25]
I know no life of mortal man which I
Would either praise or blame. 'Tis Fortune's chance
That raiseth up, and Fortune bringeth low,
The man who lives in good or evil plight;
And prophet of men's future there is none.1160
For Creon, so I deemed, deserved to be
At once admired and envied, having saved
This land of Cadmos from the hands of foes;
And, having ruled with fullest sovereignty,
He lived and prospered, joyous in a race
Of goodly offspring. Now, all this is gone;
For when men lose the joys that sweeten life,
I cannot deem they live, but rather count
As if a breathing corpse. His heaped-up stores
Of wealth are large, so be it, and he lives
With all a sovereign's state; and yet, if joy
Be absent, all the rest I count as nought,
And would not weigh them against pleasure's charm,1170
More than a vapour's shadow.

Chor. What is this?
What new disaster tell'st thou of our chiefs?

Mess. Dead are they, and the living cause their death.

Chor. Who slays, and who is slaughtered? Tell thy tale.

Mess. Hæmon is dead, slain, weltering in his blood.

Chor. By his own act, or by his father's hand?

Mess. His own, in wrath against his father's crime.

Chor. Ο prophet! true, most true, those words of thine.

Mess. Since things stand thus, we well may counsel take.

Chor. Lo! Creon's wife comes, sad Eurydike.1180
She from the house approaches, hearing speech
About her son, or else by accident.


Enter Eurydike.


Euryd. I on my way, my friends, as suppliant bound,
To pay my vows at Pallas' shrine, have heard
Your words, and so I chanced to draw the bolt
Of the half-opened door, when lo! a sound
Falls on my ears, of evil striking home,
And terror-struck I fall in deadly swoon
Back in my handmaids' arms; yet tell it me,
Tell the tale once again, for I shall hear,1190
By long experience disciplined to grief.

Mess. Dear lady, I will tell thee: I was by,
And will not leave one word of truth untold.
Why should we smooth and gloze, where all too soon
We should be found as liars? Truth is still
The only safety. Lo! I went with him,
Thy husband, in attendance, to the edge
Of yonder plain, where still all ruthlessly
The corpse of Polyneikes lay exposed,
Mangled by dogs. And, having prayed to her,
The Goddess of all pathways,[26] and to Pluto,1200
To temper wrath with pity, him they washed
With holy washing; and what yet was left
We burnt in branches freshly cut, and heaped
A high-raised grave from out his native soil,
And then we entered on the stone-paved home,
Death's marriage-chamber for the ill-starred maid.
And some one hears, while standing yet afar,
Shrill voice of wailing near the bridal bower,
By funeral rites unhallowed, and he comes
And tells my master, Creon. On his ears,
Advancing nearer, falls a shriek confused
Of bitter sorrow, and with groaning loud,1210
He utters one sad cry, "Me miserable!
And am I then a prophet? Do I wend
This day the dreariest way of all my life?
My son's voice greets me. Go, my servants, go,
Quickly draw near, and standing by the tomb,
Search ye and see; and where the stone torn out
Shall make an opening, look ye in, and say
If I hear Hæmon's voice, or if my soul
Is cheated by the Gods." And then we searched,
As he, our master, in his frenzy bade us;
And, in the furthest corner of the vault,1220
We saw her hanging by her neck, with cord
Of linen threads entwined, and him we found
Clasping her form in passionate embrace,
And mourning o'er the doom that robbed him of her,
His father's deed, and that his marriage bed,
So full of woe. When Creon saw him there,
Groaning aloud in bitterness of heart,
He goes to him, and calls in wailing voice,
"Poor boy! what hast thou done? Hast thou then lost
Thy reason? In what evil sinkest thou?
Come forth, my child, on bended knee I ask thee."1230
And then the boy, with fierce, wild-gleaming eyes,
Glared at him, spat upon his face, and draws,
Still answering nought, the sharp two-handled sword.
Missing his aim, (his father from the blow
Turning aside,) in anger with himself,
The poor ill-doomed one, even as he was,
Fell on his sword, and drove it through his breast,
Full half its length, and clasping, yet alive.
The maiden's arm, still soft, he there breathes out
In broken gasps, upon her fair white cheek,
Swift stream of bloody shower. So they lie,
Dead bridegroom with dead bride, and he has gained,
Poor boy, his marriage rites in Hades' home,1240
And left to all men witness terrible,
That man's worst ill is want of counsel wise.

[Exit. Eurydike

Chor. What dost thou make of this? She turneth back,
Before one word, or good or ill, she speaks.

Mess. I too am full of wonder. Yet with hopes
I feed myself, she will not think it meet,
Hearing her son's woes, openly to wail
Out in the town, but to her handmaids there
Will give command to wail her woe at home.
Too trained a judgment has she so to err.1250

Chor. I know not. To my mind, or silence hard,
Or vain wild cries, are signs of bitter woe.

Mess. Soon we shall know, within the house advancing,
If, in the passion of her heart, she hides
A secret purpose. Truly dost thou speak;
There is a terror in that silence hard.

Chor. [Seeing Creon approaching with the corpse of
Hæmon in his arms.]
And lo! the king himself is drawing nigh,
And in his hands he bears a record clear,
No woe (if I may speak) by others caused,
Himself the great offender.1260


Enter Creon, bearing Hæmon's body.


Creon. Woe! for the sins of souls of evil mood,
Stern, mighty to destroy!
Ο ye who look on those of kindred race,
The slayers and the slain,
Woe for mine own rash plans that prosper not!
Woe for thee, son; but new in life's career,
And by a new fate dying!
Woe!woe!
Thou diest, thou art gone,
Not by thine evil counsel, but by mine.

Chor. Ah me! Too late thou seem'st to see the right.1270

Creon. Ah me!
I learn the grievous lesson. On my head,
God, pressing sore, hath smitten me and vexed,
In ways most rough and terrible, (Ah me!)
Shattering my joy, as trampled under foot.
Woe! woe! Man's labours are but labour lost.


Enter Second Messenger.


Sec. Mess. My master! thou, as one who hast full store,
One source of sorrow bearest in thine arms,
And others in thy house, too soon, it seems,
Thou need'st must come and see.1280

Creon. And what remains
Worse evil than the evils that we bear?

Sec. Mess. Thy wife is dead, that corpse's mother true,
Ill starred one, smitten with a blow just dealt.

Creon. Ο agony!
Haven of Death, that none may pacify,
Why dost thou thus destroy me?
[Turning to Messenger.] Ο thou who comest, bringing in thy train
Woes horrible to tell,
Thou tramplest on a man already slain.
What say'st thou? What new tidings bring'st to me?
Ah me! ah me!1290
Is it that now there waits in store for me
My own wife's death to crown my misery?

Chor. Full clearly thou may'st see. No longer now
Does yon recess conceal her.

[The gates open and show the dead body
of Eurydike.]

Creon. Woe is me!
This second ill I gaze on, miserable,
What fate, yea, what still lies in wait for me?
Here in my arms I bear what was my son;
And there, Ο misery! look upon the dead.
Ah, wretched mother! ah, my son! my son!1300

Sec. Mess. In frenzy wild she round the altar clung,
And closed her darkening eyelids, and bewailed
*The noble fate of Megareus,[27] who died
Long since, and then again that corpse thou hast;
And last of all she cried a bitter cry
Against thy deeds, the murderer of thy sons.

Creon. Woe! woe! alas!
I shudder in my fear. Will no one strike
A deadly blow with sharp two-edgèd sword?
Fearful my fate, alas!1310
And with a fearful woe full sore beset.

Sec. Mess. She in her death charged thee with being the cause
Of all their sorrows, these and those of old.

Creon. And in what way struck she the murderous blow?

Sec. Mess. With her own hand below her heart she stabbed,
Hearing her son's most pitiable fate.

Creon. Ah me! The fault is mine. On no one else,
Of all that live, the fearful guilt can come;
I, even I, did slay thee, woe is me!
I, yes, I speak the truth. Lead me, ye guards,1320
Lead me forth quickly; lead me out of sight,
More crushed to nothing than is nothing's self.

Chor. Thou counsellest gain, if gain there be in ills,
For present ills when shortest then are best.

Creon. Oh, come thou then, come thou,
The last of all my dooms, that brings to me1330
Best boon, my life's last day. Come then, oh come,
That never more I look upon the light.

Chor. These things are in the future. What is near,
That we must do. O'er what is yet to come
They watch, to Whom that work of right belongs.

Creon. I did but pray for what I most desire.

Chor. Pray thou for nothing then: for mortal man
There is no issue from a doom decreed.

Creon. [Looking at the two corpses.] Lead me then
forth, vain shadow that I am,
Who slew thee, Ο my son, unwillingly,1340
And thee too—(O my sorrow!)—and I know not
Which way to look or turn. All near at hand
Is turned to evil; and upon my head
There falls a doom far worse than I can bear.

Chor. Man's highest blessedness,
In wisdom chiefly stands;
And in the things that touch upon the Gods,
'Tis best in word or deed,
To shun unholy pride;
Great words of boasting bring great punishments,1350
And so to grey-haired age
Teach wisdom at the last.



  1. The starting-point of the Antigone was found in the closing scene of the Seven against Thebes of Æschylos. There the herald of the Council of Thebes proclaims the decree that Polyneikes is to be left unburied, and Antigone declares her resolve to bury him in spite of it. There, however, she is helped by the Chorus of her Maidens. Her lofty, solitary courage, in defiance of her sister's entreaties and Hæmon's love for her, sprang out of Sophocles' imagination.

    Though placed here as the sequel to the two Œdipus tragedies, the Antigone was, in order of composition, in all probability, the earliest of the three. We find in them, accordingly, some references to it, but none in it to them; no passing hint even at the wonderful death of Œdipus at Colonos.

  2. The horror with which the Greek mind thought of this prevention of burial rites is seen in the prayer of Polyneikes, (Œd. Col., 1410.) and the dispute between Menelaos and Teucros as to the burial of Aias.
  3. Here the impression left is, that the blindness was followed almost immediately by the death. The thought of the long discipline of suffering and tranquil death which we find in the "Œdipus at Colonos" belonged to a later period of the poet's life.
  4. The action of the drama begins at day-break, and this hymn is therefore sung to the sun at its rising.
  5. The "warrior" is used collectively for the whole Argive army under Adrastos that had come to invade Thebes and support the cause of Polyneikes.
  6. As the Argive army was compared to the eagle, so Thebes to the eagle's great enemy, the dragon. Here, probably, there was a half-latent reference to the mythos of the descent of the Thebans from the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmos.
  7. The unnamed leader whose fall is thus singled out for special mention was Capaneus, who bore on his shield the figure of a naked man brandishing a torch and crying, "I will burn the city."
  8. The three libations were sometimes separately of wine, milk, and honey. Here the narrative implies that Antigone had but one urn, but adhered to the sacred number in her act of pouring.
  9. Creon's words point to the popular feeling that if some food, however little, were given to those thus buried alive, the guilt of starving them to death was averted. The same rule was observed at Rome in the punishment of the Vestal Virgins.
  10. The thoughts of Antigone go back to the story of one of her own race, whose fate was in some measure like her own. Niobe, daughter of Tantalos, became the wife of Amphion, and then, boasting of her children as more and more goodly than those of Leto, provoked the wrath of Apollo and Artemis, who slew her children. She, going to Sipylos, in Phrygia, was there turned into a rock.
  11. Tantalos, the father of Niobe, was himself a son of Zeus.
  12. As Antigone had gone back to the parallelisms of the past, so does the Chorus, finding in the first, at least, of the three examples that follow some topic of consolation. Danae, though shut up by her father Acrisios, received the golden shower of Zeus, and became the mother of the hero Perseus.
  13. The son of Dryas was Lycurgos, who appears in the Iliad, vi. 130, as having, like Pentheus, opposed the worship of Dionysos, and so fallen under the wrath of Zeus, who deprived him of sight, and entombed him in a cavern. The Muses are here mentioned as the companions and nurses of Dionysos.
  14. The last instance was taken from the early legends of Attica. Boreas, it was said, carried off Oreithyia, daughter of Erechtheus, and by her had two sons and a daughter, Cleopatra. The latter became the wife of Phineus, king of Salmydessos, and bore two sons to him, Plexippos and Pandion. Phineus then divorced her, married another wife, Idæa, and then, at her instigation, deprived his two sons by the former marriage of their sight, and confined Cleopatra in a dungeon. She too, like Danae and Niobe, was "a child of Gods," and the Erechtheion on the Acropolis was consecrated to the joint worship of her grandfather and of Poseidon.
  15. The precise nature of the electron of the Greek is doubtful; but Sardis leads us to think of the gold dust of Pactolos, and the name of some characteristic distinguishing it from other gold.
  16. The exulting hopes of the Chorus, rising out of Creon's repentance, seem purposely brought into contrast with the tragedy which is passing while they are in the very act of chanting their hymns.
  17. The Cadmeian maid is Semele, the bride of Zeus, who perished when the God revealed himself as the thunderer.
  18. Southern Italy, the Magna Græcia of the old geographers, is named as famous both for its wines and its cultus of Bacchos, perhaps also with a special allusion to the foundation of Thurii by the Athenians.
  19. Here, as in Œd. Col., (680,) the poet speaks as one who had been initiated in the mysteries of Eleusis, where Bacchos, under the name Iacchos, received a special adoration.
  20. The people descended from the dragon's teeth sown by Cadmos.
  21. From Italia and Eleusis the Chorus passes to Parnassos, as the centre of the Bacchic cultus. On the twin peaks of that mountain flames were said to have been seen, telling of the presence of the God.
  22. The "ivied slopes" are those of the Eubœan Nysa, where grew the wondrous vine described in Fragm. 235.
  23. The "moaning straits" of the Euripos, if the God is thought of as coming from Nysa, the "slopes," if he comes from Parnassos.
  24. The imagery of the Bacchic thiasos, with its torch-bearers moving in rhythmic order, is transferred to the heavens, and the stars themselves are thought of as a choral band led by the Lord of life and joy.
  25. In the myths of the foundation of Thebes Amphion was said to have built its walls by the mere power of his minstrelsy, the stones moving, as he played, each into its appointed place.
  26. Hecate, more or less identified with Persephone, and named here as the Goddess who, being the guardian of highways, was wroth with Thebes for the pollution caused by the uaburied corpse of Polyneikes.
  27. In the legend which Sophocles follows, Megareus, a son of Creon and Eurydike, had been offered up as a sacrifice to save the state from its dangers.